Racial Equity and the Power of Mentoring

By: Higher Achievement CEO, Lynsey Wood Jeffries

“They don’t need saviors, they need believers.”  Last week, Shawn Dove, the Founder and CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, reminded us of this important fact about our scholars.  This year’s board dinner tackled the critical topic of Racial Equity and the Power of Mentoring.

Race Matters.

It has always mattered, but much of our country is just beginning to recognize that disparities studied in history books persist today. Race is now fully in the public discourse: from the presidential debates to Facebook to the recent, tragic deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte. Our country is reminded, yet again, of the racial divides in our country, and the sometimes fatal consequences.

Racial divides play out in our classrooms too. In the last decade, segregation has actually increased in our schools and racial achievement gaps persist. Our country’s demographics have changed substantially and our approach must change substantially too.

Racial equity has always been at the root of Higher Achievement’s vision and mission. We believe that all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or zip code, have talent. That’s why we work to close the opportunity gap to support scholars in gaining the skills, networks, and confidence to succeed.

It is more important than ever that we focus our efforts on not just equity, but racial equity. That is why we decided to host a discussion with over 60 Higher Achievement supporters, partners, and staff members on racial equity and the power of mentoring. This is one important step in the direction of equity.  During the course of the evening, five inspiring speakers addressed this topic from different perspectives.

Shawn Dove, CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement

He inspired us with the power of stories and encouraged us all to be “WILLionaires, even if we are not billionaires”. To learn more about the work of CBMA, visit their recent report: The Power of Place: Cities Advancing Black Male Achievement.

Heather Harding, Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

She shared with us that on average, a white student whose parent did not graduate high school scores ABOVE a black student whose parent graduated college. This fact guides Heather Harding and the Gates Foundation’s research on the impacts of race in education, and grant making to support racial equity.

Lidwina Bell, Higher Achievement alumna and Brown University sophomore

She reminded us of how racial inequity in schools contributes to the school to prison pipeline, reminded us of the intersectionality of discrimination and Kimberle Williams Crenshaw’s research, and the power of Higher Achievement to build voice of and lasting relationship with scholars.

James Williams, Higher Achievement mentor and Vice President of Government Affairs at the Environmental Technology Council

He shared his approach to broaden scholars’ professional aspirations and skills, and to engage families and understand his scholars’ home life.

Nahom Z., Higher Achievement scholar and 8th grade student

He reminded us of the importance of classroom management, strong teachers, and to never, ever give up.

Our guests left the dinner with much to consider, and a renewed drive for change.   Personally, the discussion fueled me.  Never before in my 16 years with Higher Achievement has our mission felt more important or urgent.  Our impact is not simply the academic results of our scholars, but it is also the approach – the HOW.  By leveraging the power of our communities (families, volunteers, schools, alumni, and other champions), we tighten the social fabric of our communities.  And, on our best days, we help scholars and adults to heal and to lead.

Lidwina’s words continue to reverberate in my mind.  “We must think beyond the existing frames to make lasting change. Remember Harriet Tubman, who braided maps in people’s hair, to guide them up the Underground Railroad. We must activate the power of our imaginations.”

I imagine a future where our scholar success stories are not the exception, but the rule. Where the systems don’t hold them back, but propel them forward. Where our alumni don’t defy the odds, but that they change the odds for the scholars who follow.

To turn this imagination into reality, there is a lot more that we can and need to do. This is just the beginning of a new concerted effort to focus directly on harnessing the power of mentoring to increase racial equity in our communities.  We have launched a racial equity task force among our staff, I will be blogging on this topic regularly, and I’m eager for your thoughts.

Do you have an idea for us to consider?  An article for us to read?  A racial equity expert for us to meet?  Please email us at info@higherachievement.org to join the movement.